Growing a Community is Like Growing a Garden
As a social community manager, I often get asked “how to build a community” or “where to start when investing in a community.” I always come back to the analogy of building a community is like growing a plant. The more time I spend in my garden, growing herbs, vegetables, and flowers, the more I realize this is what it’s like when building out a community space. The steps, process, and timeline all amount to the same end goal — growth.
So I figured the best way to write an article that explains the process of building a community would be to explain the entire end-to-end process of growing a plant. Think of it as a community garden.
Communities thrive because they are special and unique to that community’s needs. There is no one size fits all strategy. And that’s what I’m about to dive into here, that these are great guidelines on how to structure and support a community, but it isn’t always the only way. Find out what works best for you, and continue to test, learn, listen and create when it comes to community building!
Choose Your Plant → Choosing Your Community
When you think to yourself, now is the time to start planting your seeds, usually researching or understanding what type of plant would work best for you and your space is ideal. There’s a lot to learn before you get your hands dirty. Ensure you can provide enough sunlight, have room for growth, and keep on top of watering.
Before investing the time, resources, and potential costs to building a community, you first want to ask yourself, what kind of community is the right community for this space?
Identifying the community’s needs and what will drive membership growth and value is the start to essential planning.
Let’s say you find a gap in community involvement around growing watermelons, precisely indoors. It’s been a passion of yours to get started. Still, you have no resources or experienced individuals to lean on. Yet by knowing the community’s identity, it sets the foundation for its purpose to provide that space for future indoor watermelon growers.
How to Grow a Plant → Community Growth Plan
Once you’ve identified the group’s purpose, you can then move into the next stage of growth, understanding the community’s value to your future members. Build a space for members to be welcomed, wanted, included, and valued.
Set time aside to build out a schedule. It would look like: drafting a publishing cadence, setting time aside on when to approve/deny members to the community, blocking off time for when you can engage reactively to members, and actively listening to your member’s concerns for improvements. This foundation will help keep you on track and accountable to your members.
Materials for The Plant → Assets Needed
So how do you build something? Like planting a seed, you’ll undoubtedly need supplies. Here’s a few to kick-off a community:
- A group of individuals already looking for that community space (big or small)
- Content ideas for the community and promotional opportunities
- Software to host your community on
- Budget if the community space is not going to be under a free platform
- An outline of community guidelines
- Structured timeline for execution
- Opportunities for advocates in the community to gain more, like badges
- A bonus feature could be community swag to encourage participation and excitement about the community space
- Time. Communities cannot be built over-night. Outline a timeline that will give you realistic expectations on when to start measuring ROI
Note that these suggestions above are subjective to the type of community you are looking to build. No one type fits all. Like plants, if I am looking to grow watermelons, I’ll need different supplies than a fiddle fig tree as they both are two completely different plants with unique needs and ways to care for them.
Germinate The Seed → Kick-Off The Community
Now comes my favorite part when it comes to both planting and growing a community. Naturally, I am the type of person who enjoys moving at a fast pace and seeing results develop quickly. However, this stage has taught me the value of patience and the beauty of watching something grow independently. I like to consider this the fragile stage of development.
This stage requires a lot more attention at the start of your community. It’s to ensure it’s expanding in the direction planned from the very beginning. It means checking on it more often than usual and moderating community members. When conversations or questions start kicking off, there needs to be someone to provide that help when needed. Listen to the member’s needs or requests to improve the community’s growth.
Your space is fresh and new, and it’s essential to be on top of improvements to add value to the members. However, you don’t want to dig too much as it would disrupt the soil and the plant’s fragility altogether.
Make small, incremental changes to ensure a solid and healthy foundation for long-term growth.
Provide Proper Care → Caring for Community
There are usually care instructions that come with your plant to survive and thrive. It should be no different when outlining community guidelines. Don’t let this scare you off into thinking you’re putting the hammer down that people won’t join because of having boundaries. If anything, members passionate about that specific community prefer to join a safe and collaborative environment.
Like every plant, you can’t simply grow one and leave it be. There needs proper care such as watering wisely and providing enough sunlight as necessary. Communities cannot be built and then left alone, as they will lose their structure.
Be aware of any changes and determine if they will negatively or positively impact the community. And while doing so, keep your members informed about the changes. If there’s anything I’ve learned, being transparent and upfront gains trust from the community, and that’s value earned.
When it comes to the final stage, be proactive rather than reactive, allowing members to drive conversations. Encourage participation and reward top advocates. Continue to fertilize the soil and make it prosperous for stable growth and success.